December 8, 2023 | Rome, Italy

All the lonely people

By |2018-03-21T19:00:41+01:00May 26th, 2014|"American Girl"|
Wanting to belong, even in a big city, doesn't mean you do, or can.

h, the fabulous New York City life — so much to do and see, eight million frenzied people on the go, living at the epicenter of art, dance, music, theater, restaurants and so much more. It’s the ultimate urban luxury. If you can’t find happiness in this land of cultural plenty, something must be very wrong.

But in the last two weeks, I’ve been hearing less about the excitement and more about a deeper and less easily fulfilled longing. It started with a colleague named May.

“It’s hard being 29 in the city,” May told me one day. This turned into a short speech. “All my friends are getting married,” she went on, “and I don’t even have a boyfriend. This weekend everyone is paired off and I’m spending time with my parents in Connecticut. I love my parents, you know, but shouldn’t I be living some fabulous New York life? I try to be content just going home and reading a book, but the truth is that I’m lonely.”

When she said the word “lonely,” her head dropped in embarrassment, as if she were exposing some deep personal flaw. Her life wasn’t measuring up to the New York myth and it was clearly hard to for her to admit.

Over dinner, my friend Susan had something similar to say.

“Okay, I may as well tell you, I’m seeing Matt again — and yes, he’s still married. I know its wrong and there’s no future in it, but it’s better than nothing. How many Saturday nights can I sit at home and watch pledge drives for public television? Is a little comfort from a man too much to ask?”

She didn’t want an answer. These were obviously rhetorical questions.

“I mean, I just want someone to hold me. And the truth is, I’m tired of being alone.”

Like May, she was unsettled, exasperated, sad. Her confession sounded like she was admitting to a mental affliction. Why? New Yorkers live around so many people that if anyone lacks for human contact, it must be that they’re just not trying hard enough.

Yet crowds of hip and creative people don’t translate naturally into people predisposed to satisfying deeper human cravings. The hip and the creative can also be the most self-involved.

Then, at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I got a call from Ted. At first I was worried that something was really wrong. It turns out he’d just been drinking.

“I’m sitting here by myself,” he told me. “And yes, I’ve been up all night and yes, I’ve had a few too many beers. But I keep wishing I had a girl.

“I send these messages to ladies on OKCupid, but no one ever answers me. I say nice things. I don’t know what’s wrong. Can you check out my profile? I’m just so tired of being single in this big city.”

When I hung up with Ted, I stared out my Brooklyn window at the dark outline of lower Manhattan. The new Freedom Tower pierced the sky and a string of lights draped the girders of the Brooklyn Bridge.

I imagined the hopes and aspirations of other New Yorkers, many of them busy chasing careers and big dreams while secretly longing for something far simpler and older than the city itself, and also apparently harder than ever to find: someone to share it all with.

About the Author:

Madeline Klosterman wrote the "American Girl" column from 2008 through 2019.